Campaign to delay DTV transition gets a boost

Senate Republicans are now backing a bill that would delay the transition from analog to digital TV until June of this year.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

It looks as though the digital TV transition will likely be delayed now that a group of Senate Republicans agreed to a plan that would push it back to June 12.

Senate Republicans blocked Democratic efforts to push back the deadline just last week. But it looks like they've had a change of heart after working with Democrats to hammer out amendments to the bill. The DTV Delay Act, as it is being called, is expected to be voted on early next week.

digital TV switch

The switch from analog TV broadcast to digital broadcast was mandated by Congress in 2005 with the deadline date of February 17, 2009. On this date all TV broadcasters are supposed to stop broadcasting their signals in analog and broadcast only in digital. The switch will free up valuable wireless spectrum, which the Federal Communications Commission has already allocated to public safety or auctioned off for new services, mainly broadband wireless.

But over the past few months, government officials have warned that too many Americans are not prepared for the switch. In fact more than 6.5 million U.S. households are still not prepared for the transition, according to the Nielsen Co. Many of these individuals are minorities.

The government and broadcasters have been running public service announcements to get the word out about the switch. The government also allotted $1.3 billion for a voucher program to provide consumers with $40 coupons to defray the cost of converter boxes that will allow older TVs to accept the digital signal.

But the government has run out of money for the vouchers, and as of Wednesday the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which administers the voucher program, reported that there was a waiting list of 2.6 million for new coupons. What's more, many consumers say they have had trouble redeeming coupons or their coupons have expired already.

Democrats, including President Obama, have suggested delaying the transition to give people more time to get ready. But Republicans in both the House and Senate have raised concerns that delaying the switchover would confuse consumers and add costs for television stations that would have to continue broadcasting both analog and digital signals. A delay would also mean burdening wireless companies, which have already spent billions of dollars to buy the spectrum from the federal government. And it would delay efforts by public safety agencies that have been waiting for the spectrum to be freed up.

After some negotiation and some amendments to the bill, it looks as though Senate Republicans are now on board with delaying the date for the transition.

Under the new deal, the transition date will be delayed until June 12. But TV stations will be allowed to switch to digital signals before that date. And if a station chooses to switch to digital before the official transition date, the vacant spectrum will be made available to public safety officials.

The bill will also allow consumers with expired coupons for converter boxes to apply for new coupons. The coupons had an expiration date of 90 days. The bill also extends the deadline to apply for a coupon from March 31 to July 31.

The Senate is expected to vote on the DTV Delay Act next week. But a bill will still have to get through the House before a delay becomes official. The House Energy and Commerce Committee delayed consideration of a DTV delay bill earlier this week after the Senate had blocked its initial bill.